Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 17 min.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 2; Language 5; Sex/Nudity 8.
Our star rating (0-5): 2
Note: For purposes of discussion there is what could be a couple of spoilers in the last paragraph of this review.
For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
I loved director Paul Haggis’s Crash, but his latest film left me both puzzled and less than thrilled. Indeed, the other two critics at the special screening I attended declared afterwards that they “loathed” the film. Pretty harsh words for a movie with such stars as Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson, Adrian Brody, Mila Kunis, and Kim Basinger (a cameo role). It is a cinch it was not the stars, who turn in first-rate performances, but the melodramatic plots and maybe a couple of strange, almost surrealistic moments, complicated by the camera jumping between three love stories set in three cities—Paris, Rome, and New York—that teed my colleagues off. It might have helped, too, had the characters been more likable or admirable.
The movie’s first story is in Paris where middle-aged Michael (Liam Neeson), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist is struggling to finish his third novel as he is ensconced in a posh hotel suite. Separated from his wife Elaine (Kim Basinger) back in the USA, he has brought over his current flame, former student Anna (Olivia Wilde), a sexy entertainment reporter aspiring under his “tutelage” to become a fiction writer herself. Maybe a week with her is the cure for his writer’s block. She is a bit peeved because he brought her over on the cheap using his “Frequent Flyer Miles.” As the days unfold there is no let up of writer’s block. Little wonder. She barges in, almost attacks him at times: toying with him, and then she might suddenly withdraw and take off on her own. He is no better in his treatment of her. We eventually discover Anna is harboring from him one last secret. Indeed, part of her problem relating to him is the question of trust—will he use what she has revealed of her unconventional life as fodder for his book. Michael also has another problem, as his editor or agent (not sure which) tells him at a pub rendezvous that the quality of his writing declined in his second novel, and it is even lower in the current extracts that he has seen. They will not publish it.
In the second tale, Scott (Adrian Brody) is in Rome stealing fashion designs so that he can produce cheap knock-offs in Asia. He stops in the shabby Café Americain where no one speaks English and where he is served warm beer. A gorgeous Roma woman named Monika (Moran Atias) enters and sits near him, and there begins a complicated relationship whose theme also is trust. Can he believe her story that she is trying to ransom her eight-year old daughter from a ruthless smuggler, and that there was indeed the large amount of euros in the bag that she left behind at the bar that she claims was in it?
The third story involves Theresa (Maria Bello), Scott’s ex-wife, a lawyer who is handling the case of Julia (Mila Kunis), once a soap opera actress fallen onto hard times who is desperate to see her six-year-old son. Because her less than motherly neglect almost cost the boy’s life, her ex-husband Rick (James Franco), a famous painter, has been awarded custody of the boy and is afraid to let her near him again—can she be trusted any more? Working now as a hotel maid, she is barely clinging to her job because of tardiness. Lawyer Theresa is becoming very disenchanted with Julia who is either always late or else misses her appointments.
All of the characters have the troubled hearts that Jesus refers to in the quotation from the Gospel of Mark. They are certainly “defiled,” judging by some of the things they say and do. And yet one, Scott, is led to reach out and help Monika, who actually might be leading him into a clever scam. True, he first is drawn by her physical beauty and lust for her body, and yet he risks his entire savings on the belief that she is being truthful–certainly a good example of trust. And it is suggested that their story at least might end well.
The earlier mentioned “surrealistic moments” involve a note being written in a New York hotel, lost, and then found in the Paris hotel. Also the same flowers that appear on both sides of the Atlantic. Supposedly this is answered in the last ten minutes of the film, but instead of enlightened, I was confused, and I also found the trust theme poorly resolved. And, are all the stories “real,” or, the main story being about a writer, are these made up? There are a couple of intriguing hints—one, a quick shot of Michael writing, and another when the car Monika and Scott are riding in dissolves into thin air as it speeds through the Italian countryside. This is one film in which I would welcome feedback from you readers, who maybe discerned more than I was able to figure out!